Old New World: Aztec totonquixoxoatl

totonquixoxoatl: hot chocolate!

Cacao is one of the most popular belles of the New World ball, but nobody seems to be quite sure how we came to know chocolate as a word. One popular theory is that it is from the Nahuatl cacahuatl, or "water of cacao." Cacao itself may be from the Maya ka'kau, from kab, which means bitter. Another theory that chocolate is from choco-atl, which is in turn from xoco-atl, or "sour water" - but that would be more properly formed as xocatl in Nahuatl -  which turns out to be a fermented maize and water drink. Chocolatl, an onomatopoeic  contender (based on choco-choco, the sound of beating liquid, plus atl, water) doesn't even show up in early Nahuatl - plus, chocolate drinks weren't beaten with molinillos until the Spanish introduced them in the 18th century. There's a lot of debate over the etymology of the word  chocolate, it seems, and no satisfactory answer. This is, however, a most satisfactory drink. I like xoxoatl, "bitter water," and think this could be called totonquixoxoatl: hot chocolate!

powdered cacao, dried chile, nasturtiums


makes 4 cups

  • 2 oz bittersweet chocolate (1/4 cup choppedsolid chocolate or 1 cup powdered cacao)
  • 4 cups water
  • 3 TBSP agave nectar
  • 1 dried chile
  • 4 nasturtiums or other edible peppery flower (optional)

Combine the chocolate, water, agave, chile and flowers in a pot over medium-high heat. If using solid chocolate, you can make a double boiler by putting the pot over a larger pan of water. Ladle the mixture up and down for about 15 minutes until the chocolate is well blended, the top is frothy and the mixture heated through. Pick out the flowers and chile, ladle into individual cups and serve.


dried chile, nasturtiums


If adding the flowers, make sure to use organic ones. Wash well and check to make sure there aren't any unexpected hidden visitors.

This is a recipe for an upper-class chocolate drink as most people drank a mixture of chocolate and ground corn. This is also a very heavy drink; I couldn't actually finish my cup.

If you'd like to make this in true historic fashion, use two pots and no ladle and pour the mixture back and forth between the two vessels to make the liquid frothy. The first known image of the making of a chocolate beverage comes from a Mayan vase, circa 750 AD - and the beverage maker is pouring from a standing position into a vessel on the floor. This is a recipe for disaster for me, but perhaps you have a keener eye and a steadier hand.

Recipe adapted from The Mitsitam Cafe Cookbook: Recipes from the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian  by Richard Hetzler and America's First Cuisines by Sophie D. Coe.  

 ladling hot chocolate is a dangerous business